There was a lot to like about the Negro League uniforms that the Mets and Blue Jays wore for their July 15 game at Shea, but Uni Watch was particularly pleased with the Mets’ adherence to a small design detail that would have been easy to overlook: Their New York Cubans replica jerseys featured a center zipper instead of the more familiar button closure.
Easily dismissed now as a geeky anachronism, the zippered jersey was actually a big league mainstay for over half a century, and at one point even enjoyed a brief period of parity with button-front designs. The style was pioneered by the Cubs, who traded their buttons for zippers in 1937. The White Sox followed in ’38 (Uni Watch suspects a Windy City sportswear supplier was working both sides of the street), and the trend soon caught on—by 1941, half of the 16 big league teams were zipping up. While zippers never revisited that high-water mark, they nonetheless were employed by at least one team—and often by three or four—for 47 of the next 48 seasons (the lone exception: 1970). The zippered era finally ended in 1990, when the Phillies, who’d been zipping since 1973, went back to buttons.
Of course, there have been other jersey formats besides buttons and zippers, from the lace-up plackets of the early 1900s to the V neck pullovers of the ’70s and ’80s, and styles will likely change again. The next move may be toward Velcro—several teams, including the Mets, already use a small Velcro patch between their second and third jersey buttons (look between the “New” and “York” on the Amazins’ road grays and you’ll see the little square of stitching where the Velcro’s sewn in), apparently to rein in the growing numbers of chronic unbuttoners who favor the “bustin’ out” look. Mike Piazza is a charter member of this club, and sure enough, with no Velcro to restrain him, he unzipped his Cubans jersey down to about sternum level, no doubt silently lamenting that he didn’t get to play in the zippered era, which began more than a decade before Velcro was even invented.